Brazil hits 5 million COVID-19 cases, as experts fear second wave

Death toll nears 150,000 – the second highest worldwide – as experts warn Brazilians are ignoring social distancing precautions.

Public health experts warn that Brazil faces the possibility of a second wave by returning to everyday life too quickly [Sebastiao Moreira/EPA]

Brazil, in the grip of the world’s second-most deadly outbreak of the coronavirus, has recorded more than five million cases of the disease and experts worry the country could be facing a second wave of the outbreak even before the first has been brought under control.

Brazil’s health ministry said on Wednesday it had recorded 31,553 new cases over the previous 24 hours, bringing the overall total to 5,000,694 cases, behind the United States and India.

The latest data from Johns Hopkins University shows that the country’s official death toll at 148,228 – second only to the United States, although health experts say the actual number of fatalities is likely to be higher.

The latest rolling daily average of fatalities was 658 a day, down from 1,073 in the last week of July. The average of new cases has also dropped – down to 26,140 a day – almost half the level of late July.

Although the number of daily cases has come down, public health experts warn that people in Brazil are increasingly ignoring social-distancing restrictions which is raising the risk of a second wave.

Federal University of Rio de Janeiro epidemiologist Roberto Medronho cautioned that the numbers could be much higher if testing for COVID-19 was more widespread.

“We are seeing the authorities easing social distancing more and more despite the number of cases,” he told the Reuters news agency.

‘No more fear factor’

The fall in the number of cases also “isn’t yet sustained,” said University of Brasilia epidemiologist Mauro Sanchez.

“Therefore, there is an initial trend of decline, but it has yet to be confirmed,” he said in an interview with the AFP news agency.

Brazil’s far-right President Jair Bolsonaro has played down the gravity of the virus, even though he himself caught the disease.

Johns Hopkins University’s latest data on Thursday showed that the country’s official death toll has reached more than 148,000 [File: Felipe Dana/AP]

Bolsonaro, who dismissed the virus as a “little flu”, has opposed lockdowns and encouraged Brazilians to get back to their normal lives so the economy can recover from what is expected to be its deepest annual slump on record.

Al Jazeera’s Monica Yanakiew, reporting from Brazil, said there was a lot of confusion.

“It makes it seem like it really was a ‘little flu’ and he survived it,” she said. “It’s sending mixed messages because the fact is that more than 150,000 Brazilians are dead, the second-largest toll after the United States.”

As southern winter ends and tropical temperatures rise, Brazilians are gathering on crowded beaches and in bars and restaurants without taking precautions.

Yanakiew said that Brazilians are no longer following social-distancing rules.

“It’s been 40 degrees [Celcius] and the beaches have been packed. It’s like the fear factor doesn’t exist any more,” she said.

Source: Al Jazeera and news agencies